Update: The south end of the building has been cleared of asbestos and residents on the first floor will be able to collect their belongings on escorted, scheduled visits starting tomorrow (April 22). Those living on the third floor can do the same on Monday, April 24, and residents on the second floor on Tuesday, April 25. Visits must be booked ahead of time by contacting the Langley Lions Society.
Sixty residents displaced by the April 12 fire that killed an elderly man inside a Langley City subsidized seniors housing unit have more questions than answers about where they will live in the coming months.
At an all-candidates meeting for seniors on Wednesday at St. Joseph’s Catholic Church, Liberal incumbent candidate Rich Coleman, said BC Housing has purchased the Quality Inn, near Home Depot, for social housing. He told the crowd that the displaced seniors will be able to live there while their building is repaired.
But Langley Lions Society administrator Jeannette Dagenais said Wednesday afternoon that she hadn’t heard that.
“Actually, I made that suggestion the day of the fire but I have never had that idea supported as far as I know,” she said on Wednesday.
A meeting was held Wednesday by BC Housing, Red Cross, mental health and the Lions Society, to update residents on their living arrangements and the length of time they may be out of their homes.
The seniors were told at the meeting that their emergency funding for lodging had been extended until Friday, and if they had nowhere else to go by then, they would be accommodated in the Evergreen Hall of Rainbow Lodge.
“For the displaced residents who don’t have anywhere else to live, they can come here on Friday and there will be group lodging provided,” said Deganais. “The Red Cross will be running it and they will also be providing the cots. We will be feeding them.”
Residents who live in the north end of the building will be displaced for at least eight months, maybe more, said Dagenais.
For the south end, those residents will be out at least two to three months or longer.
“It’s because of asbestos,” she explained.
“The building was built in 1974, so when the water from the fire hoses went in there it dispersed the asbestos.”
Balfor is the restoration company doing the work.
Dagenais was hoping to get the all-clear from them to allow residents from the south end to be able to go with her and get any items they need soon.
“She also said they will be posting rental units available in the area.
“They may be more expensive than here but anyone over 60 is entitled to a subsidy under SAFER,” she said.
Peter Lehmann, 73, said he may have to live in the group lodging or live in his car.
“I live on the main floor and on the extreme opposite of the building from where the fire was,” he said. “I went from living in subsidized housing and being quite comfortable, to disaster.”
He has been living at the Days Inn since the fire. He left with no shoes and no hearing aid.
He uses a powered wheelchair. He said he won’t sign the waiver to go back in and get his things, though, because he is worried about the asbestos.
Another resident, an 86-year-old woman, has been living with her family but her son-in-law said the experience has been very stressful on her.
“She’s 86. This just rocked her whole world. She was very stressed thinking she couldn’t get into her unit to get her clothes but now that has been arranged.”
An elderly man died inside his third floor unit, where the fire erupted at around 12:45 a.m.
Langley City Fire acting assistant chief Scott Kennedy said the fire was caused by a carelessly discarded cigarette.
“Our investigation is complete so we have turned over the building to the [Lions] Society and the restoration company now has security of the building,” said Kennedy.
He said when the fire occurred, they tried their best to get as many residents’ medications and emergency equipment as possible.
As part of the provincial emergency response, residents were given $200 to purchase necessary items, like clothing.
Rainbow Lodge in a large complex at 203 Street and 54 Avenue that is one of the largest low-cost housing blocks available in Metro Vancouver.